Downsizing for retirement
Too Little, Too Late? Housing for an ageing population

Too Little, Too Late? Housing for an ageing population


“Downsizing is crucial to tackling the UK’s skewed housing market”

That is the message in a report by Professor Les Mayhew, from the Cass Business School. The report is published by The Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation and demonstrates that nearly 60 per cent of surplus bedrooms lie in households inhabited by over-65s.

The report which is titled ‘Too Little, Too Late? Housing for an ageing population’ states that the key to unlocking the UK’s housing crisis is in tackling the under-occupation of family homes where there are more than 15 million ‘surplus’ bedrooms according to a new report from the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation (CSFI).

The report shows that under-occupation is concentrated among the elderly population where people tend to live in couples or alone. It states that elderly people should be encouraged to downsize, however, the lack of age-friendly housing in the UK limits the options for millions who are open to moving but decide to stay.

The shrinking size of households is linked to the ageing of the UK population, with growth in older households set to account for 36 per cent of the projected 3.7 million increase in the number of UK households by 2040. Only 2.5 per cent of the UK’s 29 million dwellings are defined as retirement housing, and the stock is heavily skewed towards houses with three or more bedrooms.

As Jane Fuller, the Co-director of the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation CSFI, said “Covid19 has shone a light on problems with care home accommodation. Equally, however, the dispersion of elderly singles or couples throughout mainstream housing imposes extra strain on social service provision. What this report proposes – encouragement for such people to move into age-appropriate accommodation – is a happy medium: one in which independent living can be encouraged, but in which provision of social care can be optimised.”

The report suggests the following recommendations:

  • The Government should promote benefits of downsizing and incentivise people to do so before social care is needed, instead of sending mixed messaging about selling homes to pay for social care.

  • Stamp duty tends to jam up the housing market and can add significant costs to downsizing. ‘Last-time’ buyers should be put on an equal footing with first time buyers with property purchases of up to £300,000 nil-banded.

  • A new government strategy on housing calling for a joined-up approach between departments dealing with housing and health for older people should be established as a key part of the housing mix.
  • In line with the national strategy, local authorities should be required to have a plan for retirement housing, including identifying appropriate sites.
  • The NHS should acknowledge benefits of retirement communities to the elderly – such health, wellbeing and more manageable social care costs – which are largely ignored in its long-term strategy and in planning services for older people.

  • House-building priorities must change to cater for affordable housing. While there is plenty of interest in downsizing, surveys show that the number actually doing so is low.

  • Models that defer costs until housing equity is released should be encouraged and monitored for transparency of costs to residents and returns to investors. The deferred fees model achieves this by rolling up some costs until the property is sold.
  • Independent guidance about the financial aspects of downsizing should be available to cover all aspects of the purchase process. The Money and Pensions Service is a possible vehicle for this.

  • Retirement communities should aim to be carbon neutral and use renewable energy as part of meeting the UK’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

At Carless + Adams we have a strong focus on the care sector with a belief that care should be a positive choice. Many of these recommendations help to support this notion – that by creating suitable, affordable retirement housing there can be many benefits to the wider community, not just the elderly, where mainstream housing can be freed up for younger families. The country often cannot meet its yearly housing targets, yet if we were to follow the above recommendations and better utilize our existing housing stock and create more suitable housing for the growing elderly population, many societal issues can hopefully be improved greatly in the future.  


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